Monday, June 16, 2008

Rolling coaster

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a points race for the first time in more than two years in what should have been a triumph to savor. But he seemed to diminish his own victory just moments after stepping from his car and getting a celebratory Amp shower.

"I can understand how it might look, especially if you're not Dale Jr. fans," he said in Victory Lane. "I know exactly what they're going to say Monday. I mean, my fans are happy and I'm happy for them. The other half are going to tear this apart on how we won this race."

He was alluding to the fact he won the Michigan race on fuel strategy, stretching his pit window more than 50 laps. Junior shut the engine off and coasted past the pace car during a late caution to save fuel. But if not for a crash on the last lap during the green-white-checkers finish, Junior would have run out of fuel. Instead, he coasted across the finish line for his 18th career victory.

In that post-race interview, he indicated the way he won this race would be scrutinized. It shouldn't be. This was a great win for Junior, crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and the rest of his team. They stretched the fuel farther than anyone thought possible and Junior saved even more in the closing caution laps. What an incredible feat and it should be applauded just the same as if he had led the most laps and sailed to the finish line with a commanding lead.

This has been a great year for the No. 88 and it was a powerful performance Sunday afternoon by Junior and his new team. His critics should acknowledge that, but more importantly, hopefully Junior will savor it.

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